Friday, September 11, 2009
Which is worse?
Norby Chabert, a Democrat, won a three-way Louisiana Senate race.
An anti-Obama flier from Republicans against Brent Callais’s Democratic rivals, Damon J. Baldone and Norby Chabert.
Senator David Vitter
September 11, 2009
Obama Factor Plays to Senator’s Advantage
By CAMPBELL ROBERTSON
NEW ORLEANS — Mere survival was never the issue. Those familiar with Louisiana and its Republican senator, David Vitter, knew he would survive the summer of 2007, after he showed up on the client list of a Washington prostitution ring and then refused to address the matter beyond admitting to a “very serious sin” at a brief news conference.
What came as a surprise to many here is how he became a strong early favorite going into his 2010 re-election race. That turnabout is largely due to one person. “Along comes Obama,” said Elliott Stonecipher, a political analyst and demographer based in Shreveport, “and it changed everything.”
It is difficult to overstate President Obama’s unpopularity in most of Louisiana. He lost handily to Senator John McCain here, picking up only 14 percent of the white vote (the state is roughly two-thirds white). His health care plan is unpopular. His cap-and-trade plan to reduce greenhouse gases, in a state so dependent on oil and gas, is anathema.
In fact, in the South, which largely voted against Mr. Obama, the anger at his policies has been palpable, as shown by Wednesday outburst of a South Carolina Republican congressman, Joe Wilson, during Mr. Obama’s address to Congress.
Mr. Vitter, an intense and competitive politician, has taken this displeasure and run with it. Well before his Democratic opponent, Representative Charlie Melancon, announced his Senate candidacy on Aug. 27, Mr. Vitter’s campaign had been attacking him for his support of Mr. Obama.
In Mr. Vitter’s advertisements and on his Web sites — including charliemelanconforsenate.com, which was secured by the Vitter campaign — a newspaper headline is featured: “Melancon backs Obama presidency.” That apparently says enough.
Though nearly 22 percent of the state’s adult residents have no health insurance — one of the highest rates in the nation — pollsters and political experts say voters in the state are overwhelmingly against Mr. Obama’s health care proposals.
The strategy of running against the White House got a trial run recently in a special State Senate election in Mr. Melancon’s own district in southeastern Louisiana. It began as a three-way race among Brent Callais, a Republican former parish councilman; Damon J. Baldone, a Democratic state representative; and Norby Chabert, a Democrat whose father and brother have held the seat in years past.
Days before the primary on Aug. 1, according to Mr. Chabert, Mr. Baldone was the front-runner. But then the Republican Party sent out mailers highlighting that the two Democrats had voted for Mr. Obama. (“You might be a liberal if ... you voted for Barack Obama,” one read, next to a picture of a smiling hippie.) Mr. Callais came out on top, and Mr. Baldone ended up in last place.
“We knew that the president was going to be a cross we had to bear,” Mr. Chabert said. But the relentlessness of the anti-Obama strategy caught him by surprise. “Of course it’s effective,” he said. “How could it not be?”
Mr. Chabert fought back and beat Mr. Callais in the Aug. 29 runoff, 54 percent to 46 percent, though Republicans say they at least kept the race closer than it would have been.
So given Louisiana’s increasingly reddish hue, the prevailing political wisdom is that a real threat to Mr. Vitter would come from his right. So far, that threat has not shown up.
Lt. Gen. Russel L. Honoré, retired, who was appointed by President George W. Bush to lead military relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina, said recently that he was not running, “as of this time.” No Republican officeholders have stepped up.
Until two weeks ago, Mr. Vitter’s most prominent potential opponent was Stormy Daniels, a writer, director and actress in films of the X-rated variety.
Ms. Daniels, who is to announce whether she will run later this month, was charged with a misdemeanor in Florida in July after her husband told the police that she had hit him repeatedly in the head during an argument over laundry and bills. (The charge was dropped last week.)
But now there is Mr. Melancon (pronounced meh-LAW-sawn), a former sugar industry lobbyist who is known around southern Louisiana as Charlie Boy. Mr. Melancon is, understandably, emphasizing his political independence. He is a true Blue Dog, he insists to voters, a “pro-life, pro-gun Southern Democrat” who is opposed to Mr. Obama’s public health insurance option. A spokesman for the state Democratic Party had to think to come up with major policy issues on which Mr. Melancon and Mr. Vitter actually disagreed.
Mr. Vitter himself, in a telephone interview, had no such trouble. “No Louisiana conservative would have voted for the bailout,” he said. “No Louisiana conservative would have voted for the stimulus. No Louisiana conservative who cares about spending and debt would have voted for the Obama budget.”
Another hurdle for Mr. Melancon is that New Orleans, the state’s Democratic bastion, has only three-fourths of the population it had before Katrina. And the Cajun country of southwestern Louisiana, once dependably Democratic, is becoming steadily more Republican.
“If Charlie Boy can’t cut the mustard in Acadiana, he’s done,” said Paul Hardy, a former state lieutenant governor and secretary of state, referring to the swampy Cajun region.
But there is always the matter of the prostitute.
The Democrats, who accuse Mr. Vitter of hypocrisy for his family values rhetoric and his call on President Bill Clinton to step down after the Monica Lewinsky affair, are not about to let voters forget about it.
“He should not expect to be pampered by the Louisiana Democratic Party,” said Kevin Franck, a state party spokesman.
Mr. Vitter is aware of this, having seen his favorability ratings fall after the admission. “I addressed it very directly in 2007 and said it was a very serious sin and apologized very directly,” he said in the interview. “I’ve said that, and I’m sure I’ll repeat that.”
Influential religious figures in the state, while acknowledging their disappointment with Mr. Vitter, say worries about Democratic policies may overshadow everything else.
“Most assuredly Senator Vitter has his baggage,” said T. F. Tenney, bishop emeritus of the Pentecostals of Louisiana. “But on the other hand, the representative is identified with the party that has a lot more liberal baggage. Now how are people going to weigh that out — are they going to vote for a party, or are they going to vote for the man?”
Mr. Hardy and others say that Mr. Vitter may have a problem with women, who tend to be a little less forgiving about these kinds of things.
Then again, it is Louisiana, which has its own brand of moral philosophy. Take Acadiana, where this election will likely be won or lost.
“The Cajun mentality has never admired someone who is untrue to their spouse,” said Morgan Goudeau, a Democrat who was the district attorney of St. Landry Parish for 24 years. “But if it’s going to be done, it would be better done with a prostitute than with a neighbor’s wife.”
Posted by Independent Intellect at 17:13